What to do if your child stumbles over or repeats words:
Listen to WHAT he says, not HOW he says it
Give him time and wait until he has finished
Behave as if he is speaking normally
Keep calm, so he does not feel under pressure
Slow down your own speech
Tell him to “stop it!”
Guess and say words for him
Ask too many questions
Stuttering or stammering is just one type of communication or language difficulty that children may experience in their formative years.
Parents and teachers should be alert to any signs that children are having trouble understanding, speaking or forming sounds and consult a speech and language therapist immediately if they are in any doubt.
Signs a child could be experiencing speech and language difficulties include:
Birth - 1 year
Lack of eye contact
Little or no babbling
Failure to respond to noise or talk
Little or no development of speech
Lack of understanding of what is said
Poor listening skills - seeming not to hear or pay attention
Lack of normal play for age
Lack of eye contact
Little or no speech
Delayed speaking and playing skills
Poor turn-taking and slow development of social skills
Poor rhyming skills
Learning difficulties in the classroom
Poor social skills
Emotional and behavioural problems
Difficulties with word games
The King’s Speech has already won a number of prestigious movie awards and with 12 Academy Award nominations, looks set to do well at the Oscars as well. In the film, C
Colin Firth plays King George VI, a reluctant monarch who struggles to overcome a crippling stammer, in order to be able to execute his duties as king of England and head of an empire.
Firth’s portrayal of a man fighting a life-long inability to speak fluently is exceptional and audiences cannot help but sympathise as he becomes visibly blocked, his jaw moving, but unable to utter the words he wants.
Stammerers around the world are praising his very realistic performance, and welcome this film, which shines a light on a condition that affects approximately one per cent of the population.
In King George VI’s case, his affliction is made even worse by the very fact of being a member of the Royal Family and a public figure who is duty-bound to deliver speeches.
As with most people affected by the condition, Bertie (as he was known to his family) does not remember a time when he did not stutter.
Signs of dysfluency usually appear, or become noticeable, around age 3, when children start to form more complex sentences and is three to four times more common in boys than in girls.
Although one in 20 children may experience difficulties communicating or show signs of stammering, the vast majority grow out of it naturally.
There is no way of knowing, however, which children will spontaneously stop stammering and which will continue to experience difficulties communicating.
This is why Roz Griffiths, Speech and Language Therapist at Chatterbox, Pasadora Place, is keen to stress the importance of seeking treatment as soon as there are any signs of dysfluency. “It is a treatable condition, and there is no point in waiting to see if the situation improves. The sooner treatment begins, the greater the chances of eliminating the stammer,” she says.
Although the causes of stammering remain unclear, it seems there may be a genetic predisposition. A variety of factors may contribute to the appearance of a stammer, although it is now know to have nothing to do with poorly functioning jaw muscles or vocal chords as was once thought.
In The King’s Speech, we see Bertie working with different therapists who fill his mouth with marbles and use demeaning methods to try to ‘cure’ his speech impediment.
Once he meets the unorthodox Lionel Logue, who goes on to become his therapist and friend, we see Logue attempting to get to the root of Bertie’s stammer, digging into the king’s psyche, and questioning him about his parents’ reaction to this inability to speak fluently.
These events were unfolding at a time when Freud’s theories of psycho analysis were all the rage, so it is hardly surprising that Logue was searching for causes in Bertie’s past.
The British Stammering Association emphasise that modern-day views have definitely changed. They make it clear on their website: “While the underlying causes are not fully understood, we know that parents do NOT cause stammering.”
Griffiths would like to caution parents however, that while they are not the cause, they can help a child significantly if they learn the correct way to handle dysfluency. “It is important that parents do not put pressure on their children to slow down or tell them to take deep breaths.This can draw attention to their stammering and actually be unhelpful.”
She explains there are some very effective treatments available today that focus on encouraging ‘smooth’, rather than ‘bumpy’ speech, and, while every case is different, a course of regular therapy sessions is usually enough to enable a child to gain control of his fluency.
Children learn through imitation and as parents are the primary language teachers for a child, they need to provide good models for children to emulate.
Parents or guardians are encouraged attend all therapy sessions, so that they can learn the correct way of dealing with stammers and can continue the therapy at home.
Left untreated, as a stammerer gets older they become more aware of their difficulties communicating fluently, and this only serves to exacerbate the problem.
As the film demonstrates, if it persists into adulthood, the condition can have a crippling effect on a person socially, psychologically and emotionally, and may well affect their ability to do certain jobs, or carry out certain duties.
Many adult stammerers are obliged to avoid occupations that involve talking on the phone or addressing people in public.
In the case of George VI, as king of a country on the brink of war, he could not shirk his obligation to make speeches to the nation, which makes his story all the more poignant.
In the past, films that depicted characters with stammers, often did so for comic effect, portraying the stammerers as nervous, weak or even unintelligent characters.
Firth, on the other hand, plays a strong-willed man, who does not shy away from duty, who at times shows surprising wit and who spends years courageously working to overcome – or, at least, in his words “come to an arrangement with” - his stammer.
Hopefully this film and his characterization will do for stammering what Rain Main did for autism, in terms of educating the general public about a condition that is so often misunderstood and generate greater sympathy and understanding for those who live with it.